Stop Losing Sleep Over Losing Sleep: An Insomniac’s Guide to Falling Back Asleep 

We’ve all been there – your eyes snap open at 3 AM and no matter how hard you try, your mind refuses to shut off and let you drift back into peaceful slumber. As the hours tick by, anxiety starts creeping in about how exhausted you’ll feel later. Before you know it, the alarm is going off and you’re facing another day running on fumes. 

Disrupted sleep isn’t just an annoyance, it’s a chronic stressor that takes a massive toll on your health and performance. Numerous studies have linked insomnia to increased risks of obesity, heart disease, diabetes, and even early mortality. Lack of sleep also crushes productivity, alertness, and cognitive function while amplifying moodiness and emotional volatility.  

The good news? There are techniques that can help you stop the cycle of anxiety-inducing wakefulness and get your sleep back on track. I’m going to break down some of the most effective mind, body, and environment hacks for rapidly falling back into restorative slumber when insomnia strikes.

However, before we dive into those, it’s important to have the right mental framework about nighttime awakenings. Despite common misconceptions, it’s completely normal and natural to wake up briefly during sleep cycles. The key is not stressing out and staying relaxed so you can easily transition back to sleep.

As Dr. Gregg Jacobs explains in his Harvard Medical School guide to overcoming insomnia, “Cycles of light sleep, deep sleep, and REM sleep periodically occur, and brief awakenings are completely normal…If you remain awake, it’s because your mind is racing or you’ve made yourself tense.”

With that mindset in place, here are some practical techniques to employ the next time you find yourself wide awake at an unfortunate hour:

The Muscle Relaxation Technique

One of the biggest obstacles to falling back asleep is physical tension. When you’re tossing and turning, your body goes into a state of chronic stress and alertness that’s extremely counterproductive for sleep. 

The solution? A sequential muscle relaxation routine that de-stresses your body and redirects your mind away from worrying thoughts. Here’s how it works:

1. Take a few deep breaths to centre yourself. Inhale through your nose and feel your belly expand. Exhale slowly through pursed lips.

2. Start by tensing the muscles in your face for 5-10 seconds, squeezing your eyes shut tightly and clenching your jaw. Release the tension and feel those muscles go limp.

3. Move slowly down your body using the same tense-and-release cycle: Shoulders, arms, chest, core, legs, feet. Concentrate on the sensation of letting go completely.

4. Once you’ve progressed through the entire sequence, spend a few minutes just lying still and enjoying the profound relaxation coursing through your body.  

5. If your mind starts wandering, gently guide it back to focusing on your breath and physical sensations.

This practice melts away the anxiety that fuels insomnia and physiologically prepares your body for deep, restful sleep. Just be patient and allow your previous tension to fully drain away.

The Chilly Bedroom Trick

Most people sleep best in a slightly cool environment between 18-20°C. Cooler temps facilitate the natural drop in core body temperature that initiates sleepiness and high-quality rest.

If your room is too warm or you find yourself overheating after some time under the covers, it can disrupt your circadian rhythms and leave you tossing and turning for hours.

An easy fix? Keep a small fan running to circulate air and a spare pair of socks by your bedside. If you wake up feeling flushed and restless, throw on the socks to radiate some excess body heat and allow the fan’s gentle breeze to whisk it away. Dropping your skin temperature just a few degrees is often enough to trigger the natural sleepiness you need to quickly fall back under.

Light Dimmer Shades and Monitor Dimmers

In our modern world, we’re constantly bombarded with artificial light that confuses our circadian clocks and makes it harder to produce the sleep hormones melatonin and adenosine. Even small amounts of ambient light can delay or disrupt quality sleep.

To hack this, invest in some blackout curtains or portable light dimmer blinds to create a perfectly dark sleeping environment. Blue light filters for your tech devices can also help minimise photic stimulation that signals your brain to stay awake and alert.

If you do need to check the time or briefly use your devices, implement the “night mode” settings that cut blue wavelength light emissions down to minimal levels. Every little bit of light control can make a major difference when you’re trying to lull yourself back into deep slumber.

The 20-Minute Get Up Rule

There’s nothing more frustrating than being wide awake after an hour spent hopelessly trying to force yourself to sleep. At a certain point, this sleep effort just becomes counterproductive and risks building a negative mental association with your bed.

Experts like Dr. Jacobs recommend implementing a strict “20-minute rule” for these situations. Here’s how it works:

1. If you’re still awake after 20 minutes of tossing and turning, get up and go to another dimly-lit room. 

2. Engage in a relaxing activity like light reading, listening to calm music, or doing some gentle stretches. Avoid stimulating activities that will further delay sleep.

3. Only return to your bedroom when you start feeling sleepy again.

4. Repeat this cycle as needed throughout the night, never allowing yourself to stay awake in bed for longer than 20 minutes.

Although it seems counterintuitive to get up, this process actually retrains your brain to associate your bed with sleepiness rather than wakefulness and anxiety. Over time, it rebuilds the neural pathways that enable you to quickly fall asleep as soon as your head hits the pillow.

The “First Aid” Toolkit

Despite our best efforts, true insomnia may still strike occasionally leaving you desperate for any relief at all. For those challenging nights, assemble a “first aid” toolkit of mild natural sleep aids to gently nudge your body and mind closer to slumber:

– Chamomile tea: The glycine in chamomile has been shown to induce slight sedation and reduce anxiety/stress that fuels insomnia.

– Magnesium supplement: Magnesium aids muscle relaxation, reduces stress hormones, and regulates melatonin production – all key for high-quality sleep.

– Essential oil diffuser: Lavender, bergamot, and clary sage oils in particular have been studied for their natural sedative and anxiety-reducing effects when inhaled.  

The key is moderation and only using these aids sparingly during acute bouts of wakefulness. Over-reliance can disrupt your natural sleep patterns and circadian rhythms. But sensibly deployed, they can provide valuable assistance on those brutal insomnia-plagued nights.

Chronic sleep disruption and deprivation is an often overlooked but immensely damaging form of stress that degrades every aspect of your health, performance, and well-being. With the practical mind/body techniques outlined here, you now have a full arsenal to combat and conquer insomnia before it spirals out of control.

By rapidly re-establishing high-quality sleep, you’ll be able to show up as the energised, focused, and resilient version of yourself each and every day. No more running on empty or dreading the harsh impacts of another sleepless night.

Sweet dreams!